After two years hosted outdoors in South Philadelphia during June, the 2023 Philadelphia Flower Show returns to the great indoors in Center City. The country’s largest and longest-running flower show has a slightly different feel than in past years, with some of the lessons learned from recent shows clearly taken to heart. This year there is better flow and more comfort!
And with a theme of “The Garden Electric!,” the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society clearly hopes to recharge batteries with bursts of vibrant color and bright accent lights. More than ever before, the Philadelphia Flower Show is an experience to be explored.
Exploring the Flower Show Experience
Having an initial wow factor has always been a staple of the Philadelphia Flower Show. This year, PHS has a huge entry piece that pulls you in. You walk around it and under it. You look up, you look over, you look down, you look back. It is all over. And as you transition onto the floor of the convention center dangling lights and changing colors transform the ordinary into something far more unusual.
Past Flower Shows at the Pennsylvania Convention Center have been less about engaging physically with visitors. The main displays on exhibit, largely by landscape designers, would show off aspirational designs for your backyard or whatever bit of greenspace you may have access to. But the designs would be viewed from afar with any benches or pathways largely off-limits to visitors.
For 2023, the large main displays are secrets waiting to be revealed. And they want to wow you. Visitors are required to walk through many of the displays in order to enjoy the carefully curated details. On one, “Night Garden,” a projection of the Northern Lights on an overhead canopy casts interesting shadows and twinkling colors on a small field of shrubbery and brush. Another, “Eye Candy,” creates a collection of shop windows full of junk food favorites – giant doughnuts of moss and flowers and strips of candy buttons made by bouquets of roses while indulgent slogans of “ice cream solves everything” and “treat yo self” beam brightly in neon. An astronaut-themed display called “I Look to the Heavens” really caught my eye with a rotating lunar lander, color-changing space capsule, and satellite dish enveloped in a mountain of orchids and other flowers.
The smaller displays, however, are where the real heart of the show lies. Displays of front door or balcony arrangements offer a touch of romanticism while still inspiring accessible ideas. A Moroccan-inspired oasis created a lovely sitting and lounging area amongst lush greenery. A display of a dozen or so varieties of tulips and bulbs acknowledged the taste wildlife can have for bulbs with beautiful metal silhouette sculptures of squirrels, deer, and a rascally rabbit. The mammoth yellow crocus used in the display especially caught my eye with its unusual woody asparagus-like stem from which the bright yellow flowers emerged.
Local schools and universities also made a great impact on the 2023 Philadelphia Flower Show. The exhibits from schools are always well done and carry a message, and this year was no exception. And don’t forget the individual plants in competition. Row after row of carefully cared for and loved plants compete for best in their category. You could spend hours examining them all, wondering in awe at plants you may not know and others you probably have at home.
Engaging in Lessons Learned
PHS clearly took many things learned from the outdoor shows to heart. The show felt bigger with larger walkways between displays. However, because many of the main displays required visitors to walk through them – as opposed to walking by, in past years – lines formed very quickly and bottlenecks were unavoidable. But the show flowed better with the extra space and felt more inviting. Nothing felt sacrificed for this extra breathing room.
Elsewhere, the concessions felt more embedded in the show. Plenty of benches are also available. So you can more easily take a break or sit and enjoy some nearby plants. The second half of the convention center floor, away from the large main displays, feels bright and airy. You could easily spend hours examining all of the fascinating individual plants in competition or shopping in the marketplace.
Whether the return to a winter show indoors is better than an outdoor show in late spring will always be up for debate. Everyone will undoubtedly feel differently for their own personal reasons. Those with mobility issues or relying on public transit will undoubtedly find the indoor show more convenient. And those are fair points, as is acknowledging the climate-controlled environment.
For me, seeing insects buzzing around freshly planted flowers or hearing birds singing from nearby trees created a richer experience. The crowds also seemed much larger than at the outdoor shows; a great thing for the show but not as fun as a visitor.
The rather dark indoor lighting from past years returns. And it is also somewhat disheartening how much plastic and painted flowers can be seen in some displays.
The Garden Electric!
The 2023 Philadelphia Flower Show runs from March 4 to March 12th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.
Thank you to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for hosting me. All photos and opinions are my own.